Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Photographing with Children: A Tutorial

There are few things more fun than sharing the joy of photography with children. As a father of three I've enjoyed the experience first-hand with all of my kids. They've been around cameras since they were tots, and their gradual exploration and development as photographers has come as a natural part of their childhood. In addition to my own kids I've shared photography with many of their friends. I guess you could say I'm a regular Johnny Photoseed. 

With all these youngsters I've watched closely. I've noticed patterns and pitfalls, and shortcuts and tips, and I've taken notes. Below are a few nuggets of wisdom to help you engage kids with fine art photography, and hopefully introduce them to a hobby which will provide a lifetime of pleasure.
Kids are drawn to subjects with immediate personal interest

In some ways, teaching photography to children isn't much different than teaching adults. Regardless of age a photographer will be most engaged when shooting something of immediate personal interest. For a very young child this may be a stuffed animal or a perhaps a seemingly abstract scrawl of excrement on the wall, perhaps in a very tight corner which is almost impossible for larger hands to reach or clean. Perhaps a photograph can help pin down the exact location and help provide visual reinforcement when teaching lessons about appropriate and inappropriate artistic venues. 

For elementary age children, the subject might be Legos or dolls or a favorite playground. A middleschooler or preteen's needs may be completely different. They may feel a strong connection to first-person shooting games or 24 oz. steak dinners, or anatomically questionable sex fantasies. Note that some of these subjects may be tougher to find in the real world than online. That's ok. Do your best. Just remember that whatever the age, kids generally make their best photographs when they're shooting something they care about. It's that direct and honest connection which leads most often to meaningful images. 

I'm often asked what camera is best for children. The easiest answer is a cheap one. Kids can be rough on stuff, and that includes cameras. Odds are they will drop their camera, knock it around, step on it, use it as a soccer ball, whatever. Basically any camera they use --or any object in general-- is going to absorb some physical abuse. So before you give them an expensive instrument, ask yourself if your kid is really worth it. Is it worth tossing $1000 down the drain just so your child can have a few weeks of fun destroying it? Why not accomplish the same task with an inexpensive point-n-shoot? Chances are they won't know the difference and you can spend that money on yourself instead. After all, you're a teacher now. You deserve it.
Kids photograph the darnedest stuff. Luckily most such photos can be deleted with minimal hassle.

Even if a child doesn't break a camera, the odds are good that he or she will misplace it. Kids are absentminded. Sometimes -perhaps quite often- you will find yourself wondering just what the hell they were thinking. You may even voice this question out loud. That's ok. Find that direct honest connection to your feelings. Learn to tap in and listen to it, whether it's a quiet inner voice or a loud outer scream bellowing from you uncontrollably. For that is the way of the child.

I learned this lesson the hard way several years ago. I was on a hike with my son and several of his friends. As usual I brought a few cameras along, and naturally they were curious to use them. I dispensed them carefully, keeping track of who had what. Most were inexpensive point-n-shoots, but one was an $800 digital pocket camera. I thought nothing of it until an hour later when I asked for the cameras back. I wanted to see what they'd been shooting. 

I got all cameras back except the expensive one. Where was it? The damn kid had no idea. He thought he might've set it down somewhere. You should've seen the look on his face. It was one of complete beatific emptiness. Camera? What camera? I could've killed the little fucker, but I didn't. Thinking quickly I realized there was a photo lesson to be learned here. I made all the kids march double-time back the way we had come, searching under every log and grass clump for that camera, but to no avail. It was lost. Luckily this kid had a college fund which I was able to dip into the next week. I'm happy to say I was completely reimbursed, and with interest, but not all such scenarios end on a high note. Many kids do not have much personal savings beyond a simple piggy bank. Before dispensing cameras, especially if any are valuable, it may be good to get written promissory note from the parent in the event of loss or damage. 

I always use digital cameras. Don't give kids film cameras because they will waste film, and it will only encourage them to place value in their images when there likely isn't any. In addition I've found that loading and unloading film becomes a distraction, and old film cameras usually require some level of manual expertise. Digital cameras on the other hand require minimal thought. Most camera settings can be automated which frees up kids to focus on images. And with digital there is zero cost per shot. If they want to shoot a thousand photos of some stupid flower it's no skin off your back.

Delete? Not so fast! Blur can be bankable 

This brings me to image quality. The most important thing you've got to realize -and for some adults the toughest lesson to learn- is that most kid photographs are miserable. Don't expect the moon. Maybe one of out fifty photos will be halfway interesting but for the most part you'll find them a waste of time. You don't have all day. You've got better things to do. So task number one is to erase the crap. I find it's best to do this out of sight of the kids. A bar of chocolate can distract them for several minutes, especially if it's wrapped tightly in extra packaging. Duct Tape is great for this. Turn it into a game. Find the prize. Kids will usually fall for that. Say "Johnny Photoseed needs some down time." Then find a quiet corner or private room away from them and start deleting. Your tone during all of this should be upbeat and appreciative. Use familiar catchphrases like "Great Photos!" or "Very impressive!" If you're stuck for exact buzzwords, a few minutes on Flickr will generate many possibilities.

The tricky thing here is that sometimes their "mistakes" can actually be quite interesting. Don't erase those ones. If marketed properly they can hit a good target market with the art crowd. Note that I'm talking about a very specific type of image here. Photos with soft focus, motion blur, or ambiguous splashes of color can be quite rewarding. Financially, I mean. That stuff is redhot in certain galleries, but only if it's edited and marketed properly. But kids will have no idea which work has financial potential. You've got to guide them. You've got to help them tap into their inner child and find the images which say "Youth! Freedom! Innocence!" in a marketable way.

Photo by some kid I was watching. I forget which one. Teaching children photography can provide innumerable rewards.

With kids usually their social contacts are too young to have gallery connections, but it's worth doing a bit of research on their parents. You never know who might know someone who knows someone, and if their own kid makes an interesting photo they will likely put some networking muscle behind it. This is where you can sometimes get a piece of the action as middleman. Kids usually have no idea how to sequence, edit, or come up an artist statement, and usually their parents won't either. But you have those skills. You can provide certain services for a fee. And the bonus: You helped them make the photos! That's a golden goose that can lay for a while if carefully tended. So don't give up on a kid just because their photos suck at first glance. Look deeper. Network. Think through all the angles.

There is an added twist here, and that is the general view in the fine art world of artworks by children. Sometimes it is segregated and dismissed. But if marketed correctly, an artwork's value can be enhanced by the fact a child made it. We've all seen art in galleries and thought My Kid Could Paint That. In photography it's especially true. Nowhere is the line between genius and infantile so blurry. Picasso said, "it took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child." Young photographers can take those words to the bank, literally. Stick a 10-years old label under the artist statement and you just doubled the price! All of the sudden those blurry off moment snapshots take on the whiff of prodigy. Forget Weston, it's Tichy you're emulating here. Think of Moriyama, not Cartier-Bresson. Your job is to remind people that not just any 10-year old can shoot like these guys, only the true prodigies. And if you're a collector, getting a piece of a prodigy ain't cheap. Getting a piece means getting a piece of you. That's the equation. Call yourself the child's protectorate or mentor or something. Help yourself to a slice. You deserve it. After all you taught that kid everything he knows about photography.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


If you're in the market for gently used film canister lids, you may be interested in my eBay listing put up this morning. I'm selling off some of my collection. If you're a beginning lid collector, this is a great way to jumpstart your archive. Or for those who've been at it a while, these lids will push your collection over the top.

Here is the description as written on eBay:

For sale, a one gallon milk jug containing lids collected from 35 mm tin film canisters over the past 5 years. 

Selling as complete set only, including jug. These handy little rings have a million and one uses:

*String them together into a necklace
*Play ring toss (chopsticks make great goals)
*Use as backfill to level out troublesome garden holes
*Melt lids into molten tin, then mold into a boat anchor
*Look through them one at a time
*Create an obstacle course for ants or fleas
*Many more uses! Lids provide hours of pleasure!

If these lids sound like something you could use, go ahead and make a bid. But do so quickly, as I don't expect them to last long at this price. 

Serious offers only please.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dagens Nyheter

First the good news. The current In-Public show in Stockholm was featured this week in Dagens Nyheter (Latest News), which is apparently the most respected cultural daily in Sweden. They even sent a reporter --a nice guy named Andreas-- to interview Matt, David, and me. 

The bad news is that I can't read Swedish. I know, I know. I studied it all through my childhood. We all did. But none of it seems to have stuck.

So I'm at the mercy of Google Translate to see what the heck I said. I entered the article into the Swedish side and something came out the English end which vaguely resembled what we had talked about with Andreas. It mentioned street photography a lot. It mentioned burning cars and peeing buskers. But I think some of the meaning was lost in translation. And the people too. For example, Matt was somehow confused with Nick Turpin who was 1000 miles away at the time. And David's quotes were attributed to Matt. But street photography isn't about taking names. It's about truth, dammit. And the moment and Leicas and stuff. Like jazz.

The translated article was fun to read, but not quite fun enough. I thought it might be more entertaining after undergoing a few more translations, and boy was I right. I took my Swedish>English version, then translated to Greek>Japanese>Basque>Swahili>English. The final product was almost there, but I felt bad about Matt and David getting their names mixed up, so I translated my own name too just to make it all even. In the article below I'm referred to as Nem Um Talvez, which is Swedish for Nem Um Talvez. 

Arts Championship soil freezing while on the road

Shot of a group that's not reality, very few, the rest of us this is a perfect match. Well, sounds DN've Stockholm street area and three members displayed.

Nem Um Talvez is a photographer Nick Turpin and Matt Stuart, facing each other, I sigh. How to explain the art of shooting street, as are questions about. This is not the first time. Put the hard eyes and a light color. However, the relationship between the object of a love-hate relationship with the product. After a while, I like street photography is what chin, really.

- Road, the town in the direction of the head of the association of words. However, I started this, I did not know the picture should be out. So, I do not like the place. This image is not important for me to set and unexpected. Ansel Adams is not cool then. In other words, the model is not included as part of a large system is also important. You will work, Nem Um Talvez said.

- So, the picture, and then you say, you do not need to be taken in public places is always a conflict to start the discussion, I also looked at Nick Turpin at Talvez break where you want to be with you.

Nick Turpin has been added with a smile.

- In fact, the rest, are welcome to take pictures at home. Of course, it is very good. However, it is only a picture. , And from these descriptions, please refer to what we do not agree with the majority. However, that should've been.

They all laugh.

Street pictures seem to remember a bit of jazz?

- Of course. We have it, it is possible to agree on the importance of the passage, Nem Um Talvez says.

Nem and Matt Stuart Talvez States and Briton Nick Turpin street is part of an international group photograph in public places. Nick Turpin was the company he founded 13 years ago and 22 days for a photographer.

Trio, during a visit to Sweden, street, photo When word spread awareness about photography. displays (picture modern city) of all sponsors in Stockholm CUP. Snickarbacken 7 Stockholm Open, an exhibition of over 100 photographs. Some funny pictures, photographs or images of bad arguments here. Heaviest gauge. Pissing scattered street performers a hot car.

It is difficult to identify a common denominator. In many cases it can be a mistake. Some photographer, I was attracted by shear. debate is the claim. Matt Stuart is retransmitted close. For him, it is clear that it has nothing to do with perfection. However, Nod Nick Turpin. opportunity to work with only a small error exists in a lot of photographers.

- Build a little bit of what broken, as well as understanding not bad. Nikkutapin who accept me.

Matt Stuart Street Shoot sure that you do not have an affinity for documentary photography.

- Street photographer, shoot I do not know anything about it when he woke up the morning. There is no agenda. Gatufotografiets work does not mean that is the answer to the question. Vice versa. More problems, the better, raised.

Concepts such as truth and reality of the relationship, is it?

- This is a loaded question. Photography, frankly, is the relationship of long and hard. Say that the pictures do not lie, often, the photographer who is responsible for the error. Street shooting, something that is not true. It is often elusive. However, the true figure to be interesting in some way associated, Nem Um Talvez says.

Address shot slightly, art delivery, more than three seem to agree that while the main power supply.

- Street as a photographer, really, and shutter button allows you to control your expectations and rectangular. Nothing more. You can not ask you to repeat the crime of shooting. Services must be always connected. You can not stop watching. In other words, to avoid. I have headaches frequently, says Nick Turpin.

It is very important for all diseases. digital, the main source of inspiration, Matt Stuart, when to shoot 600 shots will be, one day. However, there will be a practical means of unremitting. Growth has been continuous for at least 9 months to break Talvez, analog photographers. Nikkutapin in the ratio of three years.

- I have my camera handy, I'm nervous. Street shooting is not just a good relationship. However, I have pictures of my family was always helpful to find. All of the pictures are for my ability. There is a kind of instinct, I think, for now, I want to save. Has a negative return home flooded, Nem Um Talvez said.

Shooting with others, without asking permission. What do you think is less privacy?

- I think the people who will be angry because the stage is not that interesting, there is something that bothers me, but Nem Um Talvez said.

- Photos of the street, I think, and has shown that it is possible for the position is to build the set, the significance of these words is possible. Yes, art, Nikkutapin said simply.
In public places - Stockholm.

Pictures and photo exhibitions, and until June 22, in public places, 100 pages of pictures. 7 Snickarbacken in Stockholm, and (still image of the modern city) is composed Cup.
Photos of the street.

Paris is considered the place of origin of very gatufotografiets. One of the founders of the French kind Eugene Atget, who, after his death, in 1927, was well-known figures.

Streets as a photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, describes not always, but it was a very important time to load deft ability to capture elements.

Century 50, Robert Frank's picture book called "America" ​​was a pioneer in the United States.

Some notable Brassai name William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Weegee, Gary Wycombe Roh on the ground, and Josef Koudelka. Internet has played a role in street shooting spread worldwide.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Eye On PDX: Melanie Flood

Melanie Flood is a photographer and curator based in Portland.

BA: How large a role does chance play in your work? And in your life?  

MF: Place has a huge influence on the type of work a person makes. It was by chance I met my husband on a street in Tribeca yet it was my choice to wear a blue leather dress. It was not by chance that we visited the PNW after we were married, yet it was a choice to move. My college friend was from Portland who I would visit and perhaps she is the true reason we live here. Chance is determined by the percentage of deliberation that goes into a decision and all the contingencies which follow.
from Suggested Experiences by Melanie Flood

Who is your favorite photographer from the 1970s and why?

I don’t have a favorite photographer from any decade but admire Sanja Iveković and her piece "Double Life" (1975) Marcia Hafif’s “Pomona Houses” (1972), Lynda Benglis’s advertisement in the 1974 issue of Artforum, Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” (1979) and Nan Goldin’s early photographs are among my favorite things made during the 70’s. 

Name a photographer working now whose appeal cannot be explained to you.

It wouldn’t behoove me in a small city to name names, but there are certainly artists & styles of photography being highlighted which don’t interest me. Explanations may strengthen my like or dislike but could never take me from dislike to like. There is one artist Aaron McElroy whom I first met in 2009; our mutual friends tried to sway me to his photography-they never could but I saw potential. During his recent show at Ampersand it was clear that Aaron had made great strides in building his visual language, which led me to better understand his aesthetic. Seeing growth out of potential is often more satisfying to me than the work itself.

How do you conceive of a photo project and how do you know when a project is complete? 

For my studio work Suggested Experiences I have visualizations while falling asleep, or in dreams that are based on blurry memories or a random concept I’m thinking about which I attempt to build out and represent. Each photo is a one off which may come together over time based on their similarities. U-Turns, K-Turns is about the anxiety of picture taking while traveling. My only ‘body of work’ is twelve 16x20 C-prints that I completed as an undergraduate student at SVA. I consider Lost Bag, Found Bag a finished piece even if it’s just two photos. The process of looking, thinking, shooting, of just going to and being at my studio are all an integral part of my making work and the work having agency. The entire action of my exploring this inclination to create is more important than having an object to show for it. But! When I take an i-phone snap of a Polaroid and text it to a friend that’s when I know I’m onto something...
Nine Months of Polaroids by Melanie Flood

Nine months of Polaroids? What's that about?

It’s a photo of a stack of Polaroids I shot in my studio over a period of nine months. Sometimes when I’m working I become so disconnected from reality that I don’t even know how I got to the final photo- I attribute this to my working fast, changing arrangements immediately if I dislike them. I take a Polaroid of every change, no matter how small. Nine months of Polaroids is a document and timeline of that dizzying dance. 

You have a fascination with photographing textures and materials. Does that apply to those materials in real life too, or only to photographs?

All of my friends know my ‘full panda’ outfit, so yes, in real life too. I love fashion, it’s an extension of expression. I’ve always picked up ribbon here and there, stacks of fabric meant for unrealized sewing projects. I wanted to incorporate this interest directly into my work. I chose materials for Color Studies with attention to the garish, reminding me of vibrancy in nature, anomalies like rainbows, which mimic my reaction to my first summer living in the Northwest. I had a friend visit from back East. She wanted to go on an adventure. I heard about a psych-trance party in the middle of nowhere. We drove toward Estacada, finally reaching our destination about 20 miles into the woods off logging roads. It was a fluorescent marriage of epic proportions. The dense forest a place idyllic for solitude was visually being divided by laser beams and moonlight. I saw color in an entirely new way. Using that experience as a point of departure I needed to hone my technical skills. In creating a controlled studio environment I began to think of three categories of painting- still life, landscape and portraiture. This led me to the drapery studies of da Vinci which are common exercises in learning how to draw. I was aware of the ‘fabric as backdrop’ trope in conceptual still lifes and the materials versatility-spandex for a swimsuit, wrapping paper for a gift, I wanted to document them without any added elements and only manipulated by my arrangement.

Tell me about the first photo you ever made that you still like. 

It’s a portrait of my mother, brother, aunt, two twin cousins and grandmother taken on Christmas 1988 in my childhood kitchen with a newly gifted Le Clic. I was 9 and much smaller than my subjects so I was shooting upwards to get their bodies in the frame. It was the first photo I recall taking and the last photo of them together, later that night my grandmother had a heart attack and died shortly thereafter. Everything else changed.

Tell me about this photo: 

I like to take self-portraits in window reflections a la Friedlander via Max Kozloff. The metallic reflectors caught my eye, so I snapped it.

What do you think of Portland's photography scene?

When I moved here in 2010, I was very excited to jump in and be involved with the art community, particularly photography. I had been a panelist for Photolucida Critical Mass a few times, and also checked out the Blue Sky Exhibition Committee. I joined the Portland Art Museum Young Patrons Society, attended a few photo council meetings and became an early supporter of Yale Union. I shopped at Monograph Bookwerks, hung out on First Thursday, was terrified by Last Thursdays. A group of photographers from New York that relocated to Portland started a crit group rotating between studios and later I became involved in ‘Talking Gang’ which includes artists working in various mediums. I’ve been in three local shows this past year, made new work that excites me, and have good stuff on the horizon. 
Writing about Melanie Flood Projects, you said the photo world is like a high school social scene. Do you think Portland is like that?

I don’t think so. What Portland lacks in exhibition opportunities it makes up for in its supportive community of artists which fosters growth and experimentation. I’m sure a high school-esque competition exists here, but not amongst my peers. I’ve had quite the opposite experience, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy living here. Artist friends Samantha Wall and Stephen Slappe, Teresa Christiansen, and Tricia Hoffman have made my transition to town and refocus on art making an inspired one. I wouldn't be as productive and motivated without their constant support and feedback.

How would you characterize the exhibition environment in Portland compared to New York? 

I cannot compare Portland to New York but needless to say, it’s natural to be underwhelmed. New York state has over 2000 museums, the city over 1500 galleries with connections to major curators, relationships with critics and writers, and a necessary collector base which keeps art galleries operating. There are endless opportunities for exhibition, higher education, residencies, jobs, internships with established artists. 

Our two main photography venues are also educational resources. Blue Sky and Newspace are non-profit organizations whose exhibitions must appeal to a broad audience- photojournalism, documentary, portraiture, than more experimental work shown in a larger city. It’s crucial to showcase a variety of work that represents current photographic trends, whether that’s digital manipulation, photo sculpture or the conceptual. I do detect a curatorial shift occurring-in 2011 Blue Sky chose Millee Tibbs’s This is a Picture of Me for their smaller gallery and Newspace’s Photography at the Edge presented photography in less traditional ways. In April during  Photolucida Portfolio Reviews, the PAM photo council invited Alec Soth to the museum for an unusual lecture where he projected an exhaustive list of powerpoint presentations and answered questions from the audience as he spoke. (Afterwards during his book signing gaggles of women were swooning and cooing all over).

I generally dislike separating photography from a larger art scene, but I feel that distinction in Portland much more than in New York.  There are a lot of Portland based photographers and few spaces to exhibit their work alongside other mediums, and even fewer spaces that have a collector base. It creates a line between artists and that of hobbyists, amateurs and straight photographers. In recent years spaces like Yale Union have brought solid programming to Portland which set the bar higher -the Marianne Wex show in October was particularly challenging. Terrain Shift at Lumber Room was a delight. John Motley is delivering a much needed critical voice bringing international attention to Portland by writing for Artforum. The opportunities for grants from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Regional Arts and Culture Council are an amazing resource to fund creative ideas and bring them to the public. As Portland’s art community grows, it’s also easy to be overwhelmed by all the opportunities to pitch in.
Marianne Wex

What about the style of shooting?

The strength of setting and regional influence appears to be greater in Oregon than in New York. I see a lot of 1970’s nostalgia, retro cinematic aesthetics, alternative process, as well as outdoor lifestyle stuff. 

Do you ever envision opening a gallery in Portland similar to Melanie Flood Projects? 

Melanie Flood Projects began because my friends at the Humble Arts Foundation were dominating (rightfully so) the rebirth of photography in New York. I was inspired by my peers entrepreneurship and the long history of showcasing art at home- Hans Ulrich Obrist's first exhibitions were in his kitchen. There was an opportunity to add something special to an already vibrant, motivated, emerging market. Upon arriving to Portland I curated a show at the now defunct Worksound Gallery. It was a mix of drawings, video, installation, sculpture and photography. I wanted to test the waters before diving in, it was cold. I’m into future curatorial experiments but would not involve me opening a space and would look very different from what I did in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Proper weight

I had a chance to handle Matt Stuart's MP last weekend. The thing weighs a ton! Well, actually it's just a few pounds. But it was surprisingly hefty, more massive than my camera for example, which is already heavier than most others I've tried.

I think much of the extra mass is in his rather large f/1.4 lens. Or maybe he filled the film slot with lead. Regardless, it made me wonder about the ideal weight for a camera. I think the common supposition among manufacturers is that smaller is better. People get tired carrying some big tank around all day. They want a camera that they don't notice on the shoulder. Plastic, small, dense. Maybe pocketsized is the ultimate goal of all these camera lines. Eventually --if we haven't reached that point already-- we'll arrive at an age where size is no longer any type of constraint. By Moore's law within 5 or 6 years we'll have cameras the size of a matchbox which can shoot 20 megapixels. What then?
Matt holding the next generation Mini-MP (Photo by Brian Sparks)
We have the technology to make one-inch spoons. And we could make an axe out of titanium which is light and strong and swings like a feather. But we don't make those things. Why? Because those tools would be ridiculous and ineffective.

I think camera design should work by the same principle. A camera should be scaled to a human hand and to human strength. The ideal size and weight probably varies for everyone but I suspect it's at least a pound or two, and at least the size of a mid-range banana. Personally I like a camera with some weight to it and which fills my grip. I like one that could knock a pingpong ball 10 yards if needed. Not that I would, but you get the idea.

Maybe all of this is in my head. You tend to like what you're used to, and I've been using a heavy Leica for a while. But there are practical effects too. A heavy body has less camera shake. Try holding a ping pong ball motionless, then try it with a bowling ball and you'll see what I mean. A heavy camera reminds me it's there. I think I want to notice it on my shoulder. Not too heavy since I still want to swing it easily to my eye. But with some mass. In the Google Glass world will anyone even notice anymore when they are or aren't carrying a camera?

I guess what I'm saying is that technology may no longer be the key determining factor. Now the factor is What do we want? The size and weight I want is roughly the same as it was in 1925.